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Ecology

A view of the river at New River State Park
Ecology

Get plant and animal checklists at the park office.

Dense forests once blanketed the land in the New River valley, but most of the virgin forest was cut or cleared and the woodlands now consist of second- or third-growth trees. Nevertheless, an abundance of forest cover grows primarily on ridges and on the steep slopes of the valley wall.

The soil is fertile and much of it is moist, supporting many species of hardwoods, pines, shrubs and wildflowers. More than half of the forest cover is an oak/hickory hardwood community. Oaks, hickories, maples and pines grow where the soil is relatively shallow and dry. The moist soil along the river's tributary streams supports a more diverse flora including American beech, black gum, yellow poplar, black locust and yellow birch. Hemlocks and pines grow at higher elevations. The understory includes dogwood, sourwood, sassafras, huckleberries, alders and hydrangeas. Mountain laurel and rhododendron grow on north-facing slopes and add color to the woodlands in winter and beautiful flowers in the spring.

At least 14 species of rare, threatened or endangered plants grow in the valley. They include rattlesnake root, Carolina saxifrage, Carey's saxifrage, spreading avens and purple sedge. Please help preserve our diverse natural heritage by leaving these valuable species in their natural habitats for all to enjoy.

Diverse animal species make their homes in the New River Valley. White-tailed deer are common and black bears are seen occasionally. Mink, muskrat, river otter and raccoon may be encountered along the river. Beaver have been reintroduced to the area.

Bird life is abundant and varied, and the valley is home to several nesting birds uncommon in other parts of the state. A population of wild turkeys is present in lowland forests and ruffed grouse may be seen at higher elevations. Sightings of ospreys along the river have increased in recent years. Red-tailed hawks nest on cliffs above the river. Scarlet tanagers, American goldfinches and indigo buntings provide brilliant flashes of color, and serious bird watchers look for uncommon species including black-billed cuckoo, willow and least flycatchers, warbling vireo, golden-winged warbler, and northern oriole. Spotted sandpipers, belted kingfishers and wood ducks are also encountered along the waterways.

Wet summer evenings bring choruses of frogs, common in the wetlands adjacent to the river and its streams. Salamanders thrive in shallow, rocky tributaries while nonvenomous water snakes can be seen along the river's edge. A variety of lizards and turtles occupy the region.


Map of North Carolina

 

Contact the park

336-982-2587
new.river@ncparks.gov

 

ADDRESSES

U.S. 221 access
and visitor center

358 New River State Park Road
Laurel Springs, NC 28644

GPS: 36.46768, -81.34035

 

Wagoner access

1447 Wagoner Access Road
Jefferson, NC 28640

GPS: 36.415808, -81.387174

 

Kings Creek access

2250 Kings Creek Road
Piney Creek, NC 28663

GPS: 36.527628, -81.336359

 

Elk Shoals access

349 Methodist Camp Road
West Jefferson, NC 28694

GPS: 36.365324, -81.433277

 

HOURS

  • December to February:
    8:00am to 6:00pm
     
  • March to April:
    7:00am to 9:00pm
     
  • May to September:
    7:00am to 10:00pm
     
  • October:
    7:00am to 9:00pm
     
  • November:
    7:00am to 8:00pm
     
  • Closed Christmas Day
     
  • Monday to Friday:
    8:00am to 5:00pm
     
  • Saturday to Sunday:
    10:00am to 3:00pm
     
  • Closed Christmas Day
     
  • Closed November 1 to March 31
     
  • April:
    8:00am to 8:00pm
     
  • May to September:
    8:00am to 9:00pm
     
  • October:
    8:00am to 8:00pm
     

The swim beach at Elk Shoals access is open from sunrise to sunset year-round.